As private companies like Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX prepare to ferry private customers to the stars, a whole new market is opening up to train affluent would-be travelers for their future missions. Case in point: space training company Orbite, whose goal is to combine aeronautics and five-star hospitality in its inaugural astronaut training program.
“We’re going to have hundreds, if not thousands of people this decade of the 2020s, who will go to space, but you just don’t get off the couch and strap into a rocket […] you actually have to get mentally prepared, physically prepared and also spiritually prepared for this out of this world journey,” co-founder Jason Andrews told TechCrunch. “And that’s really our role.”
Orbite (the French word for “orbit,” pronounced or-beet) was founded by space and hospitality industry veterans Andrews and Nicolas Gaume. Andrews is an aerospace entrepreneur who founded Spaceflight and BlackSky, while Gaume, a software and game development entrepreneur, sits on the board of his family’s resort and hotel business Groupe Gaume. Last year, Gaume’s business Space Cargo Unlimited shipped a dozen bottles of wine to the International Space Station. They were later retrieved. (When asked how the wine tasted, Gaume told TechCrunch, “It’s a unique product.”)
The program will be led by Brienna Rommes, who previously worked as the director of space training and research at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center. Rommes has trained more than 600 people to prepare for spaceflight, including Sir Richard Branson, Orbite said.
Led by Rommes, the program aims to prepare travelers who are determined to reach space, but Andrews also said Orbite can help customers “try before they buy” — give people a taste of spaceflight for those who are unsure whether they’d actually want to board a launch vehicle. This seems to be their main value proposition, by providing a general overview to space travel across different companies, because they’ll also be competing to a degree with the native (and mandatory) training programs of individual private launch companies that are purpose-built to prepare customers for their flight.
Costs remain prohibitively high for the average spacefarer: It’s been reported that a ticket on Axiom’s inaugural commercial launch to the International Space Station costs upwards of $55 million. Orbite’s premium training program comes in at $29,500 per person for the three-day, four-night stay.
In acknowledgement on the premium price tag, the four training program sessions scheduled through the remainder of 2021 will be held at luxury resorts: the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, Florida, and Hôtel La Co(o)rniche in Pyla-sur-Mer, France. The latter hotel is owned by Groupe Gaume.
Would-be space travelers will be able to experience up to 5 Gs by taking a ride on a high-performance aircraft, as well as simulated zero-gravity. To prepare customers mentally and even spiritually, the training program itinerary includes meditation training, a workshop on stress and anxiety management, and individual coaching with staff “to explore personal goals for space, thoughts and assess possible flight options,” the company said. The itinerary also includes virtual reality mission experiences and a “Michelin star” space food tasting.
“We really want to make sure we bridge the gap with more of a sensorial, psychological even spiritual preparation for the trip,” Gaume said.
The company’s long-term vision is building and operating many training facilities around the world. The first facility will open in 2023 or 2024, though Andrews and Gaume are not yet sharing where it will be located. They did say that the dedicated training facility will offer a range of packages, with some as short as single-day experiences. They will also offer accommodation and hospitality, potentially for the long term — weeks or even months, depending on if we reach a stage in human space travel where we’re sending private citizens to the moon or even Mars.